Wednesday, September 1, 2010

3-2-1 Contact!

Top o' the mornin', my guerillas! I've gotten a lot of interest in the community garden project, so I thought I'd share with you a little of the behind-the-scenes work.

As I mentioned before, we're undertaking this project in a non-guerilla fashion. I'm doing this for a couple of reasons, one of which is that I hate when plants die. It would break my gardening heart to lovingly put flowers and shrubs into the ground, only to have them ripped up by a disgruntled property owner. But more importantly, I'm seeking permission for the sake of the residents. This particular neighborhood boasts an aging population, so I want to keep the drama to a minimum. Though the property has been a thorn in their side for years and while the DCGG is willing to go to the mattresses for the sake of green space, I don't want to embroil the residents in a messy battle. They've already been battling for 5+ years. We'll save that fighting-the-system card for a frisky neighborhood full of litigious environmentalists.

And now! That peek behind-the-scenes. This is the letter I sent (several times... grr!) to the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and the D.C. Department of Vacant Properties, neither of which have responded to me. Nertz.

Dear D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and D.C. Department of Vacant Properties,

I am writing on behalf of the Deanwood residents of NE to request information on and permission to use a privately owned (but unmaintained) lot for a community garden. I have sent this request several times without success. If you are not the appropriate departments to handle my request, please reply with the name of the office that I should contact.

The lot at [ADDRESS] (SSL XXXX XXXX) has been an ongoing problem for the surrounding property owners. Since its sale to the current owner, the lot has fallen into a state of severe disuse that has lowered property values and threatened the safety of the Deanwood residents; debris and overgrowth have made the lot a site for illicit and transient activity, and a breeding ground for vermin.

Deanwood residents have contacted you about the lot 20 times over the past six years. Inspections of the property have been made, and reports of its maculate condition noted.

We have identified the property’s owner via the Property Information Verification System (PIVS) and have tried to contact them about the property. The owner is [OWNER] c/o of [CONTACT] at [CONTACT ADDRESS] NE. However, [CONTACT] has returned our correspondence citing the property on [ADDRESS] does not belong to her and that she has never heard of or been associated with [OWNER]. Attempts to contact [OWNER] at other numbers and addresses have been equally unsuccessful.

To further complicate matters, a search into the tax history of the property shows that an Expired Tax Sale occurred in 2008, at which time the homeowner’s debt was purchased by the District. Please note that this sale occurred AFTER the 2007 purchase of the land, therefore it is assumed that [OWNER] is in debt to D.C. for its back taxes.

2009 and 2010’s taxes are both outstanding.

The neglect of [ADDRESS] represents more than the 2,000+ square feet of the lot itself. The condition of this property is an eyesore and a blight to the neighborhood. It is threatening the safety and security of the surrounding residents, and decreasing the value of their homes. (The value of the property itself has dropped since its sale to [OWNER]. It sold for $140,000.00 in 2007, and has dropped in value to its current price of $134,570.00. The land’s proposed 2011 value is an appalling $11,140.00. )

This is unacceptable.

But the situation can be easily fixed.

The Deanwood residents contacted me, founder of the local non-profit gardening organization D.C. Guerilla Gardeners, and requested the lot be transformed into a community garden where they can meet and play chess. I have met with the residents, taken their requests, and am developing a plan for the lot. However, the intricacy of the garden’s design is dependent upon the owner and their wishes. If we are allowed to garden on the property and do not fear eviction, we can construct a pergola and lay crushed stone in high-traffic areas to eliminate the need for mowing. Further, if we are granted permission to garden the lot, we will plant fruit and flowering trees.

Without permission, we will have to design the lot in such a way that our work can be moved if we are forced to leave. In the latter case, trees are not an option. Neither are the more elaborate design features.

Transforming [ADDRESS] into a garden will decrease transient activity in the area, and will positively impact the Deanwood community by giving them something to enjoy and care for. (Studies have shown that community gardens decrease crime rates and increase property values.) Maintenance of the garden will be undertaken by the residents and neighborhood committee, thereby reducing – if not entirely eliminating – the cost D.C. incurs each time you are called to inspect and care for the lot.

By way of this email, I am requesting the following:

  1. Confirmation of the land’s current ownership, looking closely at D.C.'s 2008 Expired Tax Sale and its significance on ownership;
  2. Your acknowledgement that the lot at [ADDRESS] is problematic; and
  3. Permission to create a community garden on the property.

Thank you for taking this request into consideration, and for looking into the standing of [ADDRESS] NE. I sincerely hope that the D.C. Guerilla Gardeners, the residents of [STREET], and the D.C. government can work together to transform this aging neighborhood and its unsightly lot into something pleasant, productive, and inspiring.

Best regards,

D.C. Guerilla Gardeners


  1. I wonder if it would be worth contacting the mayor's office? with the upcoming election they could either really dig some positive PR or be too preoccupied to deal.

  2. Or a news organization? DCist? 7 on Your Side?